Discipline surely implies something adult-led. The word "discipline" feels (and is) unpleasant, controlling, a top down delivery, and connected with punishment designed to alter, end, or influence behaviors. How do we move away from that and actually build community?
When I hear an adult use this expression, "What is this!?! Preschool?" in reference to some adult-world communication frustration, I think to myself, "What preschool are they talking about?" If you want to see community-building, honesty, and social problem-solving, just visit a preschool setting!
We have a lot of class meetings. This is where we get the children together and talk about what is happening at the school and in their lives. We have our daily meetings with the whole class, regular meetings with just two or three children, and we also have daily check-ins after dramatic play with each small group. Through these meetings, we -- the children and the adults -- get to learn about each other. We establish cues that we can all agree on so that we can use them when we need them. This is what this blog post is about -- three weeks ago in our 4s-5s class (the "Tracks"), we learned something about "hard news". The idea of hard news is far-reaching and comes up all the time. You can find it in books, in world events, at home, at school, at the store. Each of us has our own hard news, large and small, that we have to learn to do something with.
The first time this story was told it was one of our "tales from school" presented at our most recent Information Session for prospective parents. It took on new meaning and relevance when I told it again after the events at Sandy Hook during a parent training about comfort zones and resilience. We are still adding to its meaning and our understanding of the concept:hard news as well as how we could reference it each day. So, this is what happened . . .
After each dramatic play session we hold a check-in, posing questions like "What worked for you and what didn't work for you?" or "What was your favorite thing and least favorite thing about drama?" Note: dramatic play at our school is child-led dramatic play scheduled into the day (see blog posts, Capture, The Suitcase, or Four Spaces for Learning).
On this day, the first child to answer said, "My favorite thing was having a bunny picnic and my least favorite thing was when ____ , ____ , and ____ were shooting at me." Immediately, one of the named children, shouted, "I wasn't doing it!" and the other two slumped into their little criss-cross apple-sauced laps. The next sharer chipped in quickly without prompting, "My favorite was also the picnic and my least favorite was when ____ , ____ , and ____ were shooting at ME!" . . . "I didn't do it!!!!!" scrambled the one while the other two put their heads in their hands and pretended they weren't in the room.
Time for intervention..."You are feeling uncomfortable because your names are being put into a sentence with the words 'least favorite.'" ... "AND ALSO BECAUSE I DIDN'T DO IT!"..."Okay, and also that. This is what we call hard news. It is hard to hear, like 'stop playing and clean your room', 'time to go', and all the other things we don't want to hear about or do. The important part is what you do with this kind of news. The important part of this hard news is that you have to look back and remember what actually happened -- remember? When ____ asked you to stop shooting towards them, you did. You listened to what they asked and you made the decision to stop. Then IF you name this as your least favorite thing (directing this to the sharers), you also have to add to your sentence, 'and they stopped when I asked them to."
I asked our first speakers to add that phrase to their sentences and with each one our little slumped ones perked up a bit more and were able to stay up even when the next person said, "I didn't like when ____ , ____ , and ____ were shooting at me, EITHER." So we got to practice it all over again including the, "I TOLD YOU I DIDN'T DO IT."
Since that conversation, we found great examples of reactions to hard news in the books we have been reading, e.g. in Peter and the Blue Witch Baby by Robert San Souci or in Precious and Boo Hag by Patricia McKissack. Molnya in the first and Pruella in the second book have fabulous 0-60 moments after they hear hard news. The children have offered other examples as well. They are adding to their understanding, not just about how to hear hard news, but also about how to share news that might be hard for others to hear.
Now, there is more to this story, of course, because the hard news for the children is one thing, but the hard news for adults is something different altogether, so each time we share this story, we have to pause and check-in -- I asked the adult listeners at each telling, "How did you feel that I told a story in which I used the word 'shooting' several times?" The point of sharing this story was two-fold, the first was to show how the children are able to problem-solve and connect in an honest, if sometimes, raw way which adults often find difficult. The second point is that I wanted to make sure that we do not place the adult-lens on interpreting early childhood play -- gun play is a signal for play. To pretend it doesn't exist or to prohibit it presents problems in which play becomes secretive, hidden, and one-sided -- children who are trying to engage with each other are not fully engaging and children who are worried about these kind of play signals feel stressed because they do not have the language of "stop, I don't want to play that." The bottom line is that we walk towards this difficult subject and lay out the ground rules of how the children are trying to engage with each other and that there are many ways to play.
As you can imagine, asking that question before December 14 felt completely different to me than it did after or even now as I write this post. I have to be ready for the hard news of how this story affects the reader.
I can only add what I plan to do with that hard news...I plan to continue to advocate for group meetings with open, but facilitated, discussion and remain open to all of the different ways young children play and make connections. I will work to create an environment in which children can share and voice concerns while others learn to listen, but mostly where play is nurtured and encouraged to take flight.